Residency in dispute: Rosalyn Hall with David, 5, has her four kids back in school after a month at home. But she owes ,000.Photos by J. GEIL/Staff Photographer

Rosalyn Hall moved to River Forest to get away from Oak Park.

She’d had drama and trauma in the neighboring town, she said. Her infant son had died in her rented home on Scoville Avenue, and she’d split up with her husband there.

So she set her sights on an apartment on Lake Street in River Forest, a home right next to Thatcher Woods where she could get some peace and quiet. This fall, two of her four kids started at River Forest’s Lincoln Elementary.

But it was short-lived. The school district kicked her kids out of River Forest’s schools on Nov. 5 after an investigation, saying she didn’t actually live in town.

Standing in the kitchen of her first-floor apartment two weeks after they’d been booted, her kids ran around shouting and playing with one another in the middle of the afternoon, just after they should have gotten out of school.

“My whole thing was to find a stable place for me and my children to live; it wasn’t the school and it wasn’t the neighborhood,” she said that day. “This whole thing doesn’t make sense to me. Why would I do all this stuff? What’s so special about River Forest? I’d rather go live in a shack than live here, just for the peace of mind.”

District 90 Superintendent Thomas Hagerman said the school board didn’t take the decision to remove Hall’s kids lightly. The board made the decision after a lengthy investigation by their veteran residency inspector, he said.

“We have to be very fair to our taxpayers, who we know are paying a lot of money for our schools. It’s a tightrope,” Hagerman said. “I feel for her family, but residency is very clear by Illinois law, and we’re required to follow that both as a board and me as a superintendent.”

Hagerman said the schools first started investigating Hall’s residency in the fall, when pieces of mail sent to her address in River Forest started bouncing back to the district.

Last Friday though, on Dec. 10, Hall’s kids were allowed back into River Forest schools.

With the help of a lawyer, Hall presented the school district with documents that proved she was actually living in town, including a new lease and several rent receipts.

“We came in and figured out what she needed,” said Elizabeth Rosenthal, Hall’s attorney from legal aid.

It’ll allow Hall to get started on her kids’ special needs, as well. One of her children, 5-year-old David, has spinal muscular atrophy — a degenerative genetic condition that’s left him in a wheelchair and in need of special care. Through the district, Hall can arrange to get David more of the help he needs locally.

But to get Hall back into River Forest’s schools, Rosenthal had to prove that Hall was currently living in the village — she didn’t get the opportunity to prove that her client originally lived in the village, she said, since she came to the process after Hall had gone through the entire appeal process on her own.

“We needed to prove that she lived there right here and now,” Rosenthal said. “It was a strategic position based on the fact that her kids needed to be in school.”

As a result, though, Hall still owes Dist. 90 nearly $4,000 in tuition for her kids’ school the first months of the year. Rosenthal will appeal that decision, but she admits it’ll be an uphill battle.

Hagerman said they’re still planning to try to collect that tuition, and he’s confident that Hall wasn’t living in River Forest when the saga began.

“I felt we were 100 percent right, and we were 100 percent right,” he said. “We are accountable to our taxpayers and our community members, and when this process started, we were very convinced they didn’t live here.”

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Ben Meyerson

Ben was Wednesday Journal's crime, parks, and River Forest reporter, until he kept bugging us enough to promote him. Now he's managing two of Wednesday Journal's sister papers in the city, Chicago Journal...